Saturday, October 18, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 18, 2014

Farm Update

We got to see this awesome double rainbow at our
Mt. Pleasant drop-off last week!
Hi everyone!  Welcome to the last week of the CSA!  Things are definitely drawing to a close around the farm.  Most of the root vegetables have been harvested, the piggies are on their way out, and the weather is telling us it's almost time to call it quits for the year.  But even as we're tying up loose ends on this season, I'm already gearing up for next year's CSA.  I've started the official 2015 CSA membership list, so if you are interested in being part of the program again next year, just let me know!  We've decided to do something a little different with the prices this year too.  For the last several years, there has been a $20 price difference on a half share between the Alma drop-off and all the other drop-offs.  The original reason for this was that when we first started the farm, we figured that since we didn't have the same fuel costs to get to our own hometown drop-off, we'd pass those savings along to the Alma CSA folks.  However, we've found that the original structure has just become kind of confusing and inconvenient.  So here is what we're going to do.  Over the next two years, we're going to equal out those prices.  Instead of increasing the price all around by $5 like we've done the last few years, we're going to hold the price steady at the Mt. Pleasant, Midland, and East Lansing drop-offs, and we're going to have a $10 for the Alma folks for each of the next two years.  After that, the prices will be the same all around.  So next year's prices are as follows:  Half share at Alma: $280.  Full share at Alma: $525.  Half share at all other drop-offs: $290.  Full share at all other drop-offs: $525.  So if you know you want to sign up for next year, just let me know!  You can either send us a check in the mail to 8911 Ferris Rd, Elwell MI 48832, or you can bring a check to the drop-off.  And as always, if it works out better for you, you can pay the first half at sign-up and the second half once the 2015 season starts.  Most people's prices are staying the same this year, but if you're one of the Alma people and your share cost is going up for next season, you can lock in your 2015 share cost at the 2014 price ($270 or $515) by sending in at least a partial payment by December 15th.  Every little bit of savings helps, right?  And every check we receive early really helps us too, because most of our farm expenses are incurred in December through February.  We have so enjoyed having all of you in the program this year, and we hope to see you back for the 2015 season!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

This is actually what a kale plant looks like at the
end of the season.  All season long, we harvest the
lower leaves, and the plant just keeps growing up
and up as long as we keep harvesting off
the bottom.
  • Choice of broccoli, cabbage, or arugula
  • Choice of beets, bok choy, or kale
  • Choice of lettuces or spinach
  • Choice of carrots or large leek
  • Choice of potatoes or surprise veggie
  • Choice of Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes
  • Choice of cilantro, chives, or garlic

What We Do in the Off Season

We can feel it in the air and in our bones that the season is coming to a close.  It's much like the last week of school when you're a student (or a teacher, for that matter).  You have an intense final few days of exams and then... free time.  When I was in college, I would get to the end of a semester and find that I didn't remember what I liked to do in my spare time, because I didn't really have any spare time between work and classes.  Fortunately, now I have small children, and a household to manage, and all the farm office stuff to do, so I run no risk of getting bored like I inevitably did every single Christmas break when I was in college.  But it does bring to mind the question that a few people asked me at the drop-offs last week:  So what do we do in the off season?

Last week of October through November:  Fred will still be harvesting for our wholesale accounts, but his workload will be greatly diminished once he is no longer harvesting for the CSA.  He'll keep doing deliveries to many of our wholesale accounts until we run out of veggies, probably sometime between Thanksgiving and early December.  He will also be speaking at a few events at CMU about the local food movement, filling our freezer with venison, cooking up a storm, and finally getting a good night's sleep.  Michele will be spending lots of time with our two little girls, getting the house back in order after neglecting it for most of the season, and getting all of the farm books reconciled.

December:  Along with all the usual holiday stuff, Fred will be working on the design for a piece of farm equipment he invented that will be extremely handy for small farms like ours.  He hopes to get a prototype created this winter so we can use it at the farm next season and work out the kinks, and then maybe launch it out into the larger world in a few years.  Michele will be decorating, baking, singing, making and sending cards, shopping, and wrapping up a storm.  She will also be getting all of our farm tax things together in preparation for dealing with her arch-nemesis, the IRS, in January.

Despite the cooler weather,
we still have plenty of
gorgeous lettuce!
January and February:  This is when we enter hibernation mode.  We hang out by the fire a lot, we read a lot, we play with our kiddos, and we cook some really great food.  We're also planning on heading down to Virginia in February to visit Fred's brother and his family.  Traditionally, Michele has waited until March to start a concentrated marketing effort for the CSA (mostly because she was always uncomfortable with marketing in the traditional sense).  But this year, she intends to get an early start on spreading the word about the CSA now that she realizes that it can be as simple as putting useful, interesting content out there on facebook or in the blog, and letting that generate word of mouth.  True story.  Never knew that before.

March and April:  This is when Fred gets back out into the field and starts getting his hands and his tractor dirty again.  He loves this time of year, because even though it's often cold and rainy, it is also liberating after being cooped up in the house all winter.  He really does have a farmer's soul, and he goes a little crazy being inside for too long.  Michele will continue doing what she's been doing for the last few months:  signing people up for the CSA, running the household (and hopefully a few races, too!), keeping the family happy and healthy.  This is the last of the relaxed time at our house, because Fred starts really pushing in May, and in June, it's go time until October rolls around again.

Reading over this, it reminds me that we really do live a very seasonal, very cyclical lifestyle, and we are immensely blessed that this is our life.  Thank you all so much for having faith in us and signing up for the CSA year after year, because we could never have this life without what all of you contribute to the farm.  You all make this possible, so thank you!


Broccoli is one of those old standby veggies that everyone knows how to use.  But sometimes it's easy to get stuck in a rut when something is so familiar, so why not shake it up a bit?  Here are 20 Completely Irresistible Broccoli Recipes to try out!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 11, 2014

Farm Update

The hard frosts we had this week
have ended the green bean season,
but we still have plenty of good
stuff out in the fields.
 Hello everyone!  We are entering the penultimate week of the 2014 CSA season!  There are just two more weeks of veggies left, with the final drop-offs being October 20th-24th, depending on where you pick up your veggies.  Things are definitely winding down at the farm.  We had a few hard frosts this week, which have effectively killed off the last of the green beans, but all of the cool season veggies (primarily green leafy stuff and root vegetables) are still plugging along.  The pigs are also nearing the end of their lives, and just as well, really.  They have gotten very big in recent weeks, and they now realize how powerful they actually are, so they have taken to trying to escape their pasture with varying degrees of success.  Between a striking lack of pork in our freezer, and how hard it is to control the pigs these days, butchering day can't come soon enough.  But alas, two more weeks.  Fred harvested a bunch of apples yesterday as well, so there will be apples in the shares again this week, mostly Ida Reds and Golden Delicious.  Also, I'm starting my 2015 membership list, so if you are interested in signing up for the CSA for next year, just let me know!  It has been great having you all in the program this year, and we'd love to have you back for the 2015 season!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Cabbage is one of the vegetables that actually thrives after the
first few heavy frosts of the year, because the cold
temperatures help concentrate the natural sugars in the plant,
 making it sweeter. 
  • Choice of carrots or apples
  • Choice of potatoes or tomatoes
  • Choice of lettuce, spinach, or cabbage
  • Choice of sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli for everyone
  • Choice of beets, kale, or bok choy
  • Choice of celariac (celery root), chives, or baby head lettuce

Veggie Spotlight: Sweet Potatoes

When sweet potatoes are grown in hot climates, they get to be
big and thick like these ones.  Sweet potatoes grown in a cooler
climate (especially when the growing season is on the cool side
of normal like this year) have a tendency to be thinner and longer.
Every year around this time, we start to have sweet potatoes coming out of the fields.  These quintessentially fall vegetables are perennially popular, and with good reason.  Their sweetness and high nutritional value makes them a favorite of many people in all age groups, despite some people’s unfortunate penchant for mashing them and topping them with marshmallows at Thanksgiving.  So read on to learn more about this wonderful gem of the soil, the humble sweet potato!

The sweet potato plant seems to have originated somewhere in 
Central America, and was found to do well in many areas of the world with warm temperatures.  It was recorded to have been in Polynesia around 1000AD (where it also thrives), which leads us to believe that there were some travels between these two far flung areas of the world even early on.  The sweet potato is now found in many warm weather parts of the world, and makes up a major part of the diet in many cultures. Total yields in these hot weather climates are much greater than here in Michigan, because many of these tropical places can grow the same vine out for many years just taking newly formed tubers as needed.

There are actually many different colors of sweet potatoes grown in the world, but the orange-fleshed type that we grow is presumed to be the most nutritious because of the large amount of beta carotene. Sweet potatoes are probably the best food you can eat to get the valuable beta carotene (despite the fact that we usually think of carrots in conjunction with that nutrient), and interestingly the full amount of beta carotene is best absorbed into our body with fat intake of some kind (such as olive oil, butter, and other animal fats). Also, like regular organic potatoes, organic sweet potatoes are better for us because they do not have a chemical sprout inhibitor applied to them. If you see conventional potatoes or sweet potatoes in the grocery store, almost all of them have the active chemical on or in them to decrease the chance they would start sprouting in the store. For this reason, if you are storing our sweet potatoes, it is better to have them wrapped in newspaper in a dark place with higher humidity, which will have the same anti-sprouting effect.

Once harvested, a lot of the sweet potatoes are
kind of scraggly or broken.  This is an old
picture of last year's piggies reaping the
benefits of some grade B sweet potatoes.
This year, our grade B sweet potatoes are
being sold to a man who makes them into
organic dog food.
On our farm we buy our sweet potato plants in from another organic grower on the East coast. These plants come as partially rooted stem cuttings wrapped in bundles. We plant them by hand, which is a three man job.  Fred slowly pulls the transplanter behind the tractor while two of our field guys, sitting close to the ground in the transplanter, plug the sweet potato plants into the ground.    The stems are just pushed into the ground through holes in raised beds that have a black plastic mulch. These cutting are then watered through our dripline irrigation system, and then they begin to root and put on shoot growth. These shoots turn into long vines that creep out quickly, eventually becoming a dense carpet of vines and triangular leaves across the raised beds in which we planted them.  The raised beds are covered with black plastic, which absorbs sun and creates more heat around the vicinity of the plant. Ironically, sweet potatoes generally like sandier, less fertile soil.  We actually had trouble with the plants in the rows that were planted on our richest black soil, but they thrived in the really light soil in the southwest corner of our farm, which isn’t ideal for pretty much anything else.  When it is time to harvest the sweet potatoes in late September, we cut the vines off at the soil line and then use our tractor-pulled undercutter (a big heavy metal blade) which digs underneath the potatoes loosening the soil around them.  This makes it easier to pull the sweet potatoes out of the loose soil.  We then box them up with the dirt still on them and put them in our greenhouse to cure for 7 to 10 days.  This curing process helps them heal from any cuts and creates a firmer skin that enables longer storage.  They are then washed and brought to the CSA drop-offs.

If you are planning to keep your sweet potatoes for a while, the best place to store them is where the temperature is below room temperature but above 50F. Most basements or closets furthest away from the thermostat would be good.  Because it is a tropical root, it doesn’t do well in the refrigerator for an extended period of time, so they are best kept out on the counter unless you are storing them for the long term.  We hope you enjoyed learning more about sweet potatoes and how we grow them at the farm!


Roasted Sweet Potato Coins
There are so many great things to make with sweet potatoes!  If you have never had the Scottish Dollars at Stucchi's/ College Corner here in Alma, march yourself over there and get some!  Or you could make your own similar Roasted Sweet Potato Coins.  These are a little thicker than the Scottish Dollars, but they are equally yummy, and really easy to make.

Another good option is this Paleo Sweet Potato Chili.  I am a huge fan of soups, stews, and chilies this time of year, and this has the added benefit of leftovers, which are great to just heat up when you need something quick!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 4, 2014

Farm Update
The pigs are eating like crazy these days, and they are really
loving all the farm scraps!
Hello everyone!  As we get farther into fall, our warm season crops like tomatoes and snap beans are becoming less abundant, and they are slowly being replaced by cool weather veggies like spinach and Brussels sprouts.  The pigs are really tearing up their pasture with all their rooting; this is the time of year when they eat like crazy, so they are always looking for food wherever they can get it, including under several inches of mud in their pasture.  We have been having a lot easier time with insect pests than we usually do this time of year.  The aphids in particular usually make a real mess of the Brussels sprouts, but this year the rain and a combination of organic sprays (diatomaceous earth and chrysanthemum extract) have really helped keep them under control.  The weather has also been cooperating quite nicely; so far we've only had a really slight frost, which has meant that our summer crops have held on longer than they often would.  We're hoping that the frost continues to hold off, but this time of year, you never know.  At this point, the availability of certain items becomes less predictable, as a frost could damage a crop that we had predicted would be in the shares, and we would have to replace it with something else.  The farming season naturally starts winding down now for a reason, as conditions gradually get less and less hospitable for plants and people alike.  But this is also the time to keep going and finish strong, because there will be plenty of time for rest when everything is covered with snow.

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Spinach is back!  Woohoo!
  • Choice of spinach and Brussels sprouts
  • Choice of large leaf salad mix, regular salad mix, and broccoli leaves
  • Choice of sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes
  • Choice of snap beans and broccoli
  • Choice of carrots and beets
  • Choice of kale, fennel, and cabbage
  • Choice of slicing tomato or baby head lettuce

It's All About the Soil

Fred harvests tiny purple carrots
for a tricolor baby carrot mix.
At the farm, our soil is central to all that we do with our crops and our animals. Although the soil doesn't look like much and it's not very romantic, it is necessary for the existence of life on Earth and possibly the most important factor in how we manage the farm. Our farm’s theory is that it is important to build the soil up using practices that encourage strong, vibrant biological life and a chemically balanced soil that can adequately feed and sustain our crops. The more conventional agricultural theory over the last half century has been to focus on just the chemical needs of the crops. However, this one-track thinking ends up turning into a cycle where biological life in the soil is not in balance because of chemical inputs. Then more chemical inputs are needed to control the weeds, diseases, and insects that are attracted to a soil and crop that are not balanced biologically. In the end you end up with a lot of chemicals in the environment and in your food, and a soil that can't produce anything without ever more chemical inputs.  What we do is focus on the basics of good biological farming, which looks at soil inputs not just for their chemical properties, but from a more holistic approach. We look at how every task and input in the field works together to encourage or discourage building a healthy soil.
Doesn't this red head lettuce look gorgeous?

So what do we do in the field to encourage this biological life? For starters we use only naturally occurring fertilizers like chicken manure, compost, fish emulsion, and a variety of mined minerals that are still in their natural non-synthetic form. We use these natural products because all of the bugs, bacteria, and other critters in the soil are used to dealing with these substances in the natural world.

These broccoli leaves will be in the
shares this week, and they can be
used in the same way as any other
cooking green.
At the start of the season we do a soil test and take it to Morgan’s Composting, which specializes in organic soil fertility. There, we put together a mix that addresses the specific needs of our soil. We spread it on at the beginning of the season and then supplement with chicken manure pellets and fish emulsion as needed. Some heavy feeders like sweet corn and potatoes get more chicken pellets applied to them because they naturally take more nutrients from the soil, and crops like leaf lettuce may not get any supplementary feeding at all. Also important is how we physically treat the soil. We minimize the amount of heavy machinery going over the soil by using small equipment, and even things like cultivators are pushed by hand. Heavy machinery often drives out the air from the soil, causing the biological life to be starved for oxygen. We do not work the soil when it is too wet, as it will clump together causing areas that are oxygen starved, and then also large areas with too much oxygen. We also use cover crops that help hold the soil in place, capturing nutrients during non-production times of the season such as the winter, very early spring, and very late fall. Cover crops help keep the soil from washing away during the snow melt and heavy rains that are common in the colder months of the year.

In the end, we believe that a chemically balanced and biologically healthy soil yields the most nutritious and delicious crops. Though some of these practices we use are more labor intensive and more costly, we feel that it has paid off over the last few years as people have been able to taste and see the high quality produce that these efforts have yielded.


Spinach and sweet potatoes are back!  In honor of some of my favorite fall foods, here are some simple and delicious recipes for each of them!

Garlic Sauteed Spinach:  Check out this mega easy side dish recipe from Ina Garten that really lets spinach be the star!  This is perfect for chilly evenings, which will probably be in plentiful supply in the near future.

Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes: Check out this entire gallery of 25 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes, but the Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes looked particularly awesome!